The Republican Governors Association is out with a new television ad today using the revelation that the electric car company founded by Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe is being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Committee.
The ad, titled “Shift,” ends with the narrator reading, “He’s desperate to shift attention away from the news about this federal investigation. A possible visa-for-sale scheme, with the Chinese financing McAuliffe’s own business. Terry McAuliffe, you just can’t trust him.”
The RGA wouldn’t say how much the buy is other than to say it is “significant.”
The ad is referring to the news that GreenTech Automotive, the company McAuliffe founded and headed until last year is under federal investigation over its use of a foreign investor visa program, according to Department of Homeland Security documents released by the office of Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.
The news was first reported by the Washington Post.
The SEC inquiry is related to GreenTech’s use of a U.S. visa program commonly known as EB-5, which provides visas to foreign investors who invest more than $500,000 in American companies. The SEC also subpoenaed bank records of Gulf Coast Funds Management LLC, the company that tried to get visas for investors in GreenTech.
McAuliffe left GreenTech in December 2012 and in a statement McAuliffe says he “has no knowledge of any investigation.”
“I left GreenTech in early December of 2012 to focus full time on running for Governor,” McAuliffe said. “The first I learned of this investigation was earlier this week when the Washington Post reached out to my campaign. I have no knowledge of the investigation other than what I have read in the papers. I find it unfortunate that a Republican Senator from Iowa — who has a long history of support for the EB-5 program — selectively released information for the purpose of partisan attacks instead of getting facts. If there are concerns as to whether procedures were properly followed, those concerns should be examined and I’m glad the company said it is cooperating fully. The EB-5 program is designed to inject capital into the American economy and to create American jobs. It has broad bipartisan support, including from every member of Virginia’s delegation and the current administration in Richmond. There has been widespread frustration, however, both inside and outside USCIS about the bureaucracy there and the pace of the investment program. Like many business leaders and political officials from both parties, I was among those who expressed frustration on several occasions to multiple individuals. I never asked for any preferential treatment, nor did I ever expect to receive any. Both Republican Senators from Mississippi [the state where GreenTech has a plant] also met with DHS to voice their concerns about the bureaucratic pace of the program.”
GreenTech confirmed the news in an email to ABC News, but said it “received a document subpoena” from the SEC “on July 12, 2013″ not in May as had been initially reported.
In a statement Greentech, also known as GTA, said it is “cooperating fully with the SEC’s requests for information and believes it is in full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.”
“Since its inception in 2009, GTA has been dedicated to the advancement of clean automobile technology,” the statement read. “GTA operates a manufacturing facility in Horn Lake, Mississippi, with over 80 employees. The Horn Lake facility is currently focused on engineering, building, testing, and conducting limited sales of MyCar, a two-seat Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV). GTA expects to begin commercial production of its new MyCar 2014 model by the end of this year. GTA is also working with a leading Chinese automotive manufacturer to jointly produce a four door all-electric sedan for the U.S. market. GTA is in the process of building a new primary production facility in Tunica, Mississippi, which will have an annual capacity of 30,000 vehicles per year. Phase 1 of this project, which included design, equipment acquisition and extensive site preparation, was recently completed at a cost of approximately $6.6 million. On July 17, 2013, GTA announced that construction of the facility is entering Phase 2, the main building phase. Vehicle production is expected to transition to the new facility by April 2014.”
Gulf Coast Funds Management did not respond to a request for comment.
The Democratic Governors Association responded to the ad by trying to remind voters of another scandal that has been brewing in Virginia politics, involving Gov. Bob McDonnell, which is also hanging over the governor’s race.
McDonnell, a Republican, and his family accepted gifts from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams and he is at the center of the scandal, although he repaid all the gifts last week.
McAuliffe’s Republican opponent, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, admitted to also accepting gifts from Williams and not disclosing them, including stays at a vacation home, but he was cleared of any legal wrongdoing by the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney in an independent investigation requested by Cuccinelli. Cuccinelli has also said, unlike McDonnell, he will not repay the gifts given to him.
“The RGA has done Ken Cuccinelli no favors by highlighting his refusal to pay back the $18,000 in gifts he took from Jonnie Williams while Bob McDonnell returned his,” DGA spokesman Danny Kanner said in a statement, before referring to the chair of the RGA. “(Louisiana governor) Bobby Jindal’s right – McDonnell did the ‘right thing’ by returning his gifts, and he should obviously call on Cuccinelli to do the same for the sake of Virginians who have lost faith in their state government through this scandal.
Jindal made the comments over the weekend, telling reporters McDonnell’s decision to repay the money to Williams was the “right thing” and praising his time as governor.
The investigation will likely be Republican fodder throughout the gubernatorial campaign, and could reach into 2016. Republicans are hoping to keep the close ties the Clintons share with McAuliffe in Americans’ minds in the long run up to when the former Secretary of State will have to announce her candidacy.
GulfCoast Funds Management is run by Anthony Rodham, Hillary Clinton’s brother, and McAuliffe and the Clintons are close, old friends. McAuliffe is the former head of the DNC, co-chair of Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign and chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Bill Clinton has already appeared at fundraisers for McAuliffe and is expected to both hit the campaign trail for his old friend — who has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for both Clintons — as well as continue to help raise funds.
Bill Clinton also attended the opening of GreenTech in Horn Lake in July 2012, something detailed in the recent book “This Town” by New York Times reporter Mark Leibovich.
Hillary Clinton has not yet appeared on the campaign trail for McAuliffe, despite their close relationship.
ABC News’ Chris Good contributed to this report.